What is Automotive Programming and Diagnostics?

An Introduction to OBD

On-board diagnostics (OBD) is a phrase describing a vehicle’s self-diagnostic and reporting functionality. OBD systems allow individuals access to the condition of the various vehicle systems. The amount of diagnostic data accessible via OBD has varied substantially since its inception in the early 1980s. Early versions would simply turn on an indicator light if a problem was found but wouldn’t display any information.

Modern OBD applications utilize a uniform digital communications port to display current data in addition to a standardized array of diagnostic trouble codes (DTCs), which allow one to quickly identify and fix issues. Various tools are available nowadays that plug into the OBD connector to access these functions. These range from simple generic consumer level tools to professional-grade OEM dealership tools to vehicle telematic devices.

OBD Applications

Hand-Held Scan Tools

There are a wide range of rugged hand tools available for both the consumer and dealership levels. Consumer level products include simple fault code readers and reset tools. Meanwhile, professional hand-held tools provide more advanced functionality such as setting manufacturer specific ECU parameters, access to control units, and real-time monitoring of engine parameters.

Mobile Device-Based Tools and Analysis

Mobile applications allow devices such as cell phones manipulate OBD-II data via USB, bluetooth or WiFi adapters plugged into the car’s OBD-II connector. Some newer devices allow the vehicle’s OBD port to stream data to the Internet via a cellular connection.

PC-Based Scan Tools and Analysis Platforms

PC-based OBD tools convert the signal received and transmits it to a computer via a serial or USB port. Usually, software on the computer interprets such data and displays it for the user. There are numerous benefits in addition to a hand-held scan tool which include more capacity for data storage and better tools.

Data Loggers

Data loggers store vehicle data while the vehicle is in use for later examination. Insurance companies and companies who manage fleets of vehicles find use in data loggers.

Emission Testing

Emissions testing formerly utilized tailpipe testing. However, many states now use OBD-II testing with compliant vehicles since OBD-II stores trouble codes for emissions systems.

Driver’s Supplementary Vehicle Instrumentation

Driver’s supplementary vehicle instrumentation are devices installed in addition to what is provided by the factory for display while the vehicle is in use. These aren’t exactly scanners used for fault diagnosis. While auto enthusiasts can install gauges that provide information about things like the battery, the OBD interface allows access to significantly more information. These devices take the form of GPS navigation units, trip computers, and so on and so forth.

Vehicle Telematics

Car enthusiasts and professionals are not the only ones using OBD-II. Vehicle telematics devices that provide fleet tracking, monitor fuel usage, promote safe driving, remote diagnostics, and pay-as-you-drive insurance utilize OBD-II data as well.


While tools like the OBD II have made diagnosing car’s issues easier, sometimes it’s better to let a shop handle it. Platinum Programming & Diagnostics performs diagnostics on recently repaired cars to ensure that the programming is back in tact. Feel free to contact us today!

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